Thursday, August 30, 2012

eReaders Becoming Niche Market Players?

I've always been a fan of the Kindle and other eReader type devices, especially when compared to bulkier and heavier tablets that are difficult to view in direct light conditions. Lately though, I've been wondering how long eReaders would continue to exist as tablets become lighter and smaller with better displays. Well, I just read an interesting study from ABI Research titled eReaders and the Digital Publishing Market that takes a look at where the eReader market is going.

Here's some details from the ABI report:

  • Eleven million eReaders are projected to be shipped globally in 2012, down from a peak volume in 2011 of 15 million devices.
  • The growing popularity of media tablets along with declining US “baby boomer” population and lack of organized digital bookstores outside of the US and Western Europe will reduce the eReader opportunity over the next five years.
  • Despite the average tablet selling for more  than $465 as a result of Apple’s dominant market position, tablets are expected to outsell eReaders 9 to 1 this year. 
  • Over the next five years, annual eReader shipments are projected to drop by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.1%. In contrast, global media tablet shipments are predicted to increase from approximately 102 million annual device shipments in 2012 to nearly 250 million in 2017.
All bad news for eReaders. Well, not so fast.... the report continues... However, eReaders maintain advantages over media tablets for reading purposes. Electronic paper (ePaper) displays are able to better replicate the print reading experience and are usable in direct sunlight conditions unlike LCD technologies. The eReader battery life of weeks between charging is significantly greater than the media tablet. And of course, eReaders are priced significantly less than entry-level tablets.

ABI senior mobile devices analyst Joshua Flood is quoted “Regardless of the tremendous historical eReader success, the market tides have already begun to turn. Nevertheless, the eReader market will not be totally cannibalized by media tablets. We believe there will always be a niche market for the dedicated reading device for voracious readers, business travelers, and educational segments, particularly ones that are low-priced.”

ABI senior practice director Jeff Orr continues “The decline of buying audiences for dedicated digital readers in the US is more rapid than the digital publishing ecosystems organizing for growth in Asia or Eastern Europe. Development of content digitalization systems and services in all world regions should continue without delay as the effort will be necessary for developing mobile app catalogs that provide easy search, discovery, and monetization.”

Be sure to check out the full ABI Research report.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Curiosity on Mars Bringing Back Memories

The Mars landing of Curiosity has brought back some memories when it comes to sensors and systems in space.....

It was 1980. I was a year out of college with an undergrad degree in microbiology and working in a hospital lab trying to figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. At one time I had thought I wanted to go to medical school but the more time I spent in a hospital working in a clinical setting the more I realized I was not cut out for that kind of work. I loved the biology but I was struggling with the procedures - the work was 100% protocol - the same procedures over and over again with zero room for mistakes. So many of the people I worked with were so good at it - they thrived on it.  Me - I had always loved tinkering, taking things apart and trying to put them back together. Trying new things that did not always work was what I liked. Trying this instead of that. What if I did this? What would happen?

But.... when you are dealing with people's lives you can't do that kind of stuff. I have so much respect and envy for people who do this kind of work but I knew it ultimately was not for me. I loved the science but knew I had to change directions with respect to my career. Fortunately, something came along (as it often does in life) that helped me with my dilema.

In the lab one day we started testing a machine called the VITEK for McDonnell Douglas and NASA. VITEK was a fully automated microbial identification and susceptibility system that had been developed in the 1960's for use in space. The system is based on microbial growth in thin plastic identification cards that have small wells with sugars, enzymes, etc. After the cards have been inoculated with sample they are incubated at 37 degrees C and photometrically scanned every hour for either color change or turbidity. Different bacteria ferment different sugars, produce different byproducts, grow or don't grow based on nutrients or conditions, etc. Basically how they grow or do not grow is how they are identified.

McDonnell Douglas was looking to move the product from outer space into the hospital lab and we had engineers coming in and out of the lab weekly tweaking the system. We were running tests in parallel - we'd run a sample using traditional microbiological ID methods and run the same sample through the VITEK, comparing identification results. There was about a three week period when the engineers were in lots - the system was not working properly - something was screwed up in the incubation cycle and they were having a hard time figuring it out.

One of the engineers I had got to know came in with a large stack of green-bar  paper with thousands of lines of code one day. I had never seen actual code before - it was so logical and simple and organized. Really cool! I was able to look at it and quickly pick out where the error was - the incubation line was not properly placed in the incubation cycle loop. I showed the engineer what code lines needed to be swapped around and remember him scratching his head and shrugging his shoulders. Still, he made the mod and....... it worked! It was so trivial but it worked!! The engineers were looking too deeply into the code - this was sort of like a TV not working because it was not plugged in type of thing. That simple. I remember the guy telling me I should have been an engineer. I also remember him telling me the first time someone writes a program it never works and you always had to go back and troubleshoot it. I was intrigued - engineering - could it be for a tinkerer like me who likes to learn from my mistakes?

Well - long story short - my sister and two brothers had degrees in electrical engineering. They had been bugging me for a while to check out engineering. They talked me into going to see Dr Jim Masi (the same Jim Masi who was our first Director at at Western New England University and we were able to work out an agreement where I could pick up the undergrad courses I was missing and then move into an MS Electrical Engineering program. It took a while and most of the time was incredibly hard but I was able to complete the degree.

As an engineer I could now tinker and try new (sometimes off the wall) things and make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. And that microbiology background has never gone to waste - I know it has helped me think and approach problems a little differently than traditionally trained engineers. All good!